Inclusive Pakistani ICT policy process urged to combat violence against women in cyberspace

Lahore, Pakistan, 01 February 2010

Formation of a Technical Committee at the Lahore High Court Bar Association to assist in assessing and analysing cyber laws and laws that affect women.

Advocate Nighat Daad and Fariha Akhtar organising the TBTT bagsAdvocate Nighat Daad and Fariha Akhtar organising the TBTT bagsWith the goal to create awareness about Information and Communication Technologies and Violence Against Women in cyber space, and the implications of various government policies on women, a seminar titled “ICTs and Violence Against Women – Policy Implications” was jointly organized by Bytes for All (B4A) and the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA) on 30 January 2010 in Lahore. The event attracted about 85 representatives from legal community belonging to different law chambers, some human rights activists, media, academia and concerned citizens.

Justice (Retd) Nasira Iqbal, President Lahore High Court Bar Association and Former Chief Justice (Retd) Mian Allah Nawaz were the guests of honor. Spearheading the organizational task of putting this event together in Lahore was Nighat Dad, Advocate High Court, who is also part of the project team.

This event was organized under the auspices of a global project entitled “Strengthening Women’s Strategic Use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to combat Violence against Women (VAW) and girls”. The project is being executed by Association for Progressive Communication – Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC-WNSP) implemented by Bytes for All and P@SHA in Pakistan. The basic goal of the project is to help create a global community of women from diverse professions and fields of expertise, who will then critically take up ICT tools and use them to combat violence against women which is prevalent in the society.

The session started with a Welcome address and an overview of the MDG3 Project by Shahzad Ahmad, B4A Pakistan. He explained in very clear and concise terms why, who and what the project was about. He explained that it was an APC Women’s Networking Support Programme which is being financed through a grant from the MDG3 Fund: Investing in Equality and is being implemented in 12 countries including Pakistan. The project, Shahzad explained, included conducting research and analysis on policy issues related to women’s right and ICTs; promoting women’s engagement in ICT policy spaces that impact on women’s right and gender equality; designing and implementing ICT-enabled interventions; localizing the annual Take Back the Tech campaign; and administering small grants for women’s ICT development projects.

In her presentation, Jehan Ara, President P@SHA talked about various issues in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance (PECO) and its possible negative impacts on women if the Ordinance was not redrafted. She particularly pointed out the problems with the definitions, the excessive powers given to agencies, the lack of protection built in for individuals and businesses and the lack of any chain of custody and judicial oversight. In addition, she also pointed out that there was no way that, in its current form, this legislation could be effective. She also informed attendees that some parts of the Ordinance were actually in contravention of Articles 13, Article 19 and 24 of the Constitution. She requested the legal community, particularly female lawyers, to get involved in the campaign and join hands with civil society, women’s rights organisations and with business community to ensure that any legislation that was drafted protects all citizens in general and women in particular as well as the State.

In her presentation, young Blogger from Karachi, Fariha Akhtar gave an overview of how technology was a great enabler for women and women’s rights organisations as well as opening up ways and means for criminals and perpetrators to further harass women and girls thus adding to the violence that already existed in the society. She spoke about the Take Back the Tech (TBTT) campaign which was meant to create an awareness of VAW and ICTs. Pakistan this year had been an active part of this global campaign and Fariha explained how the project team engaged the media, bloggers, tweeples and women’s organizations to spread the word regarding TBTT. These efforts included producing postcards, writing blog posts, articles in magazines, press conferences, interviews with electronic media, using Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to disseminate information about how to keep women and girls safe online.

The Q&A session that followed was very interactive. Many of the young lawyers – mostly women – had lots of questions and suggestions and seemed extremely enthusiastic about collaborating with the project team on policy and further capacity building programme under the project. Some of the lawyers and representatives from academia offered all out support to organize TBTT awareness sessions at some leading educational institutions.

Former Chief Justice (Retired) Mian Allah Nawaz addressed the gathering and said that technology while being highly useful and empowering, can be at the same time highly dangerous as well. He said technology can facilitate and distract. Lawyers, he said, must be aware of the “deviant behaviour of cyber technology”. Laws, he said, cyber or otherwise, should be made through inclusive debates, argumentative and counter argumentative procedures.

Justice (Retd) Nasira Iqbal suggested the formation of a Technical Committee at the Lahore Bar Council, which could assist in assessing and offering analysis of cyber laws and laws that affect women. She also requested P@SHA and B4A to organize training sessions at the Judicial Academy, Lahore.

The event ended with a vote of thanks with a concrete set of follow-up activities including possible sessions with judicial academy; formation of technical committee to look at cyber laws; and possible participation of lawyer’s community to develop some useful products under TBTT Small Grants.

The event resolved that the legal community, the IT community and civil society will join hands to help the government to come up with policies that are effective for the country and yet do not infringe on citizen’s rights.

For more information about the event, please contact:

Nighat Daad, Advocate High Court
Cel. +92 321 4815252

Shahzad Ahmad
Cel. +92 333 5236060

Jehan Ara
Cell: +92-300-8220180

For pictures and videos of the event, please contact:

Nighat Daad, Advocate High Court
Cel. +92 321 4815252

About Project Partners

Bytes for All (B4A) is a South Asia wide regional network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners. B4A is actively working on the use of ICTs for sustainable development in the South Asia region. While B4A particularly focuses on ICT policy advocacy and research, it also looks at implementation of ICT solutions to pressing challenges in our society.

Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA) is a platform for promoting, protecting and developing the IT industry in Pakistan. It is a membership based trade body and represents Pakistan’s Information Technology sector. Policy Advocacy is a key component of P@SHA’s mandate.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network of civil society organisations (CSOs) dedicated to empowering and supporting people working for peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment through the strategic use of information and communication technologies (ICT). APC’s work in women’s rights and gender equality is done through its Women’s Networking Support Programme (WNSP), a global network of women that has supported women’s networking for social change and empowerment since 1993. APC WNSP is an international facilitator of civil society’s engagement with ICT and its related concerns in policies and practices. Contributions have been made at global, regional and national levels, and particularly in developing countries through raising awareness, technical training for women, developing tools and information resources, building capacity in gender evaluation and influencing policies to ensure that ICT benefit women in transformative and empowering ways.

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